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***Norwegian Porridge (prison)

by Helen Sat Jul 29th, 2006 at 03:41:58 AM EST

A report in the Guardian today highlights how different some approaches to crime and punishment can be.

As politicians in the UK vow to get tougher on criminals, inmates on Norway's prison island are busy getting in touch with nature down on the farm. Gwladys Fouché reports on a very different route to rehabilitation

Bastoey is based on the idea that traditional, repressive prisons do not work. "The biggest mistake that our societies have made is to believe that you must punish hard to change criminals," explains Bastoey's governor, Oeyvind Alnæs. "This is wrong. The big closed prisons are criminal schools. If you treat people badly, they will behave badly. Anyone can be a citizen if we treat them well, respect them, and give them challenges and demands."

Bastoey's philosophy is that individuals will stop their criminal behaviour if they develop a sense of responsibility, as well as empathy. And the way to achieve that is to take care of the nature around them. In the stables, for instance, each person is responsible for a horse or a cow.

"I've seen people refuse to take leave because their favourite cow is giving birth," says Haavald, 58, who is serving a five-and-a-half year sentence for fraud and who shows the new arrivals how to work with horses. "One guy - who all his adult life had beaten up people to collect debts owed to criminals - one day, a calf was born and it did not breathe. This guy gave it mouth-to-mouth. You could see he was shaken." ..................

Bastoey also runs education courses and programmes for violent offenders, alcoholics or drug users. The focus is to challenge their behaviour and force them to confront what they have done. "It is easier to do that in a setting where they have responsibilities than in a closed prison, where they lie back on a bunk and wait for their food," says Alnæs....................

Norway has one of the lowest incarceration rates in Europe - less than half the rates in England and Wales or in Scotland. The country's prison population increased 20% between 1992 and 2004, while over the same period, the figure for England and Wales jumped 67%, and 28% in Scotland.

However, it is worth noting that there are no figures for re-offending.

From the front page - whataboutbob

This is an interesting approach to penal policy. A rational investigation of the problem would certainly want to look at the experience of Norway. Re-offending rates would be an important issue in such an investigation.

What we should try to do is examine evidence about what works best, rather than what people who are not experts think is best.

Locking up more people for longer periods in harsher conditions (the favoured Anglo-American policy) is almost certainly not the best possible solution to crime.  

by Gary J on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 06:29:17 PM EST
Re-offending rates would be an important issue in such an investigation.

Absolutely.  The article says:

Alnæs is looking for a researcher to work on this.

I hope some enterprising PhD students in criminology or psychology read this article and take an interest in studying this issue.

Also, are there instances of animal abuse by inmates?

Bastoey also runs education courses and programmes for violent offenders

Do these also use farm animals?

Each prison should strengthen its uniqueness, like Bastoey has done." However, Christie stresses that Bastoey cannot easily be duplicated: "It's a farm in the middle of a fjord. You can't have it in a big city."

So a wide open, natural environment sounds like a requirement.  At least in the U.S., this should be doable.

But another factor I am curious about is the cultural/demographic of the prison population.  I believe Norwegians are ethnically and culturally very homogeneous, and the culture quite distinct.  Sven Triloqvist and Metatone made similar points regarding the Scandinavian so-called flexicurity economic model. Would Bastoey's rehabilitation approach work for a much more diverse and/or culturally different criminal population?

Given that the "prison has run on these principles for about 10 years" and that "in five years, there has been only one escape, and no inmate has ever escaped while on leave", I think it is definitely worth trying.

Point n'est besoin d'espérer pour entreprendre, ni de réussir pour persévérer. - Charles le Téméraire

by marco on Wed Jul 26th, 2006 at 10:05:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been reading up on the "authoritarian personality" type recently. This type needs a top-down hierarchical social organization and also believes in strong leaders to show the way.

Another one of their characteristics is a strong belief in "justice" - as in an eye-for-an-eye. In the US, currently, this type is in control of the political process. I think it has rubbed off on the UK as well.

Here is a good (fairly technical) literature review of the studies done on this personality type:
Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition - A Summary (don't let the title scare you, it's not really that bad...)

Remember that the word penitentiary comes out of the religiously inspired movement to have prisoners reform themselves by doing penance.

So, in the US, at least, prospects for humane (or even effective) prisoner treatment are not on the horizon.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu Jul 27th, 2006 at 04:02:13 PM EST
I think this goes back to the whole feminine vs. masculine cultural characteristics. Norway is a highly feminine culture where the society, self-nourishment, environment, and balance with nature are highly valued. Both Britan and the U.S. are masculine societies, and authority and status play a much more important role there. One has to wonder whether the Norwegian paradox would work in the context of a different country because it may be about the people themselves, and not just about the prison system.

Mikhail from SF
by Tsarrio (dj_tsar@yahoo.com) on Sat Jul 29th, 2006 at 11:50:33 PM EST

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